SB Nation Pittsburgh is profiling the Penn State basketball team's major contributors from last season, highlighting positives they can build upon and negatives they can work to improve this summer as they prepare for the 2012-2013 season. Today's subject: Jonathan Graham.
If there was an unsung hero on Penn State's NCAA Tournament team in 2010-2011, it was Jon Graham. As a redshirt freshman, he didn't see the floor while his teammates made an improbable run to the championship game of the Big Ten Tournament to earn a spot in the Big Dance.
But Graham was there in practice every day, pushing his older teammates and helping put them in a position to squeak their way in to the field of 68.
This past season, he got his own chance to contribute and made a solid first impression, averaging 3.9 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. He showed improvement down the stretch, too, boosting his averages to 4.5 points and 4.3 rebounds in the Nittany Lions' last six games.
Now, with retired teammate Billy Oliver and transfer Peter Alexis out of the picture at forward for Penn State, the Lions will be looking for Graham to take the next step and assert himself as a reliable option in the front court on both ends of the floor.
What He Did Well
-Penn State finished ranked No. 11 in the Big Ten in blocked shots last season with 2.4 per game. Graham was responsible for a little less than a third of that, swatting shots at an 0.7 per game clip, which slotted him No. 14 in the conference individually. There's certainly room to grow, but in just his first full season, this a good sign for Graham's ability to develop into a disruptive presence in the lane in the years to come.
-On the other end of the floor, Graham pulled down 1.7 offensive rebounds per game. He ranked behind teammates Ross Travis (1.8) and Cammeron Woodyard (1.7 per game, 68 overall to Graham's 44), but still managed to finished No. 15 in the conference in that department. Those extra chances to score are huge for a Penn State team that struggles to generate much offense. If Graham can continue to grow on this solid foundation, it'll be a big boost for the offense.
-Graham really made the most of his redshirt year in 2010-2011, bulking up his 6-foot-8 frame to a stout 220 pounds. This helped him handle the taxing Big Ten schedule well physically and stave off the burnout you sometimes see in younger players in the conference. He even showed flashes being able to use that size to his advantage on the offensive end, but ...
What He Can Improve
- ... his footwork is still a work in progress (see what I did there?). Graham got hit with an excessive number of travel calls in the post this season. There were times, of course, he had his way with the opposition down low. One stellar back-down of Indiana's Cody Zeller on Jan. 8 at the Bryce Jordan Center sticks out particularly, but far more often he'd turn the ball over by shuffling his feet and getting tagged with a walk. If Graham can get his feet under him, he could be a breakout candidate this coming season, so it'll be interesting to see if he can put in the work to really boost that scoring average.
-Free throws. Free throws. Free throws. Graham will be the first one to tell you this, too. He'd regularly be in the gym ahead of most of his teammates before practices this past season, just working on his form. Unfortunately, he didn't see a whole lot of results for his labor, as he finished the year shooting 39 percent from the stripe. If Graham can boost that percentage up even into the 50-60 percent range this season, it'd be a nice boost for the offense. We'll see if he's equal to the task.